South Africans could someday wake up to the shock of load shedding Stage 16, only if those in charge of providing electricity do not take major steps to mitigate the impact of lower supply to the ever-growing demand for power. The reality of a total blackout has once again resurfaced following media reports that the country could possibly face stage 10 during the coming winter.
In March, Eskom’s head of generation, Thomas Conradie, confirmed during an Energy Action Plan Update meeting that there was a draft document aimed at investigating how the country would respond to the possibility of Stage 16. However, Conradie at the time cautioned against public panic.
“In terms of the question of the load shedding framework for the highest stages even up to Stage 16, one must acknowledge that the actual document that governs and deals with load shedding and how it gets applied, there is a workgroup working on that, which is not only Eskom but also industry reviewing and updating that document.
“The responsible thing is to make sure that this document caters for higher stages of load shedding and that those schedules are being developed upfront so that we have a more systematic approach if we require it and that we don’t need to jump around,” said Conradie.
In his answering affidavit to the case against the state, which was brought by 19 applicants including opposition political parties, unions and businesses in the North Gauteng High Court, former Eskom group chief executive Andre De Ruyter described what a total collapse of the grid would look like.
“Load shedding is implemented to save the national electricity grid from complete collapse and a resulting national blackout. If supply and demand are not kept in balance on the national electricity grid, the grid will collapse and the entire country will experience a blackout or total loss in electricity supply.
“How long such a blackout would last is impossible to predict with any certainty. However, Eskom estimates that it could take up to several weeks to restore the electricity grid.
“Without wishing to sound alarmist, the consequences of such a blackout would be catastrophic. Some of the likely impacts include the loss or interruption of water supply and sewerage treatment,” De Ruyter said.
He added that such a blackout could also see South Africans going without internet and fuel.
“There will be a shutdown of telephone and internet services; rationing and shortages of liquid fuel (petrol and diesel) with knock-on impacts on transport, industry, and institutions that depend on liquid fuel to run backup generators (including hospitals, laboratories, morgues).
“Digital platforms, including payment platforms and automatic teller machines not running with the consequence of a shortage of hard currency; chaos on the roads, as traffic lights go down; shops and residents will struggle to keep produce fresh, and food supplies will be impacted,” he said.
De Ruyter further estimated that there would be random looting and vandalism as public unrest intensified.
“Self-evidently, a blackout is a risk that South Africa cannot afford to take,” he said.
Independent energy analyst Tshepo Kgadima said it was horrifying to learn about the Stage 16 document.
Kgadima said the collapse of the grid would “trigger panic and chaos” across the country.
“The most appropriate measures to mitigate the catastrophic impact of the imminent collapse of the electricity grid would have been to urgently acquire emergency strategic fuels reserves for at least 30 days because it would take two to three weeks to recover a collapsed electricity grid in South Africa. There is a very limited window of opportunity for Eskom to retain control of the electricity system and avert the catastrophic disaster of a collapse of the grid,” Kgadima said.